It’s a new decade, but some things don’t start with a clean slate. The 2019-2020 flu season is still going strong, after the CDC reported the earliest start in almost two decades—predominantly spreading in the south. Amid holiday parties, travel plans, and generally trying to stay warm and healthy this winter, west Texas isn’t exactly thrilled to hear it. So what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones? The obvious answer: vaccinations.
What’s the hold up, you might ask? December and January are peak months for the spread of the flu, and doctors have been encouraging vaccinations for months. Every year too many individuals opt out of getting the shot—many of them choosing based on recycled, unfounded rumors. With a particularly threatening flu season in full swing, there is more reason than ever to highlight the necessity of protection against this virus. Hitting on three of the most common, we can try to do our part by debunking these flu myths once and for all (or, at least until next winter).
- “The flu is just a cold, anyway.”
Catching a cold is different from contracting the influenza virus, both scientifically and in terms of severity. Both are upper respiratory illnesses, which means there is some overlap in symptoms between the two. However, the flu and the common cold come from different viruses, and the former spreads more quickly, with much harder-hitting symptoms. The proof is in the numbers: a preliminary estimate of last year’s season reported that as many as 810,000 people in the United States were hospitalized for the virus in the 2017-2018 flu season. Dr. Richard Lampe, Chairman for the Department of Pediatrics here at Texas Tech Physicians, makes a point every year to publicly show the effectiveness of the shot with a video, receiving the vaccine along with other pediatric residents. This encourages patients to follow suit upon observing that it is a wise, healthy choice practiced by trusted medical professionals.
- “The flu shot might actually give me the flu.”
Easily the most common misconception about the vaccine is that it puts you at risk of catching the flu. Occasionally those who have received the shot claim experiencing flu-like symptoms, including muscle aches and headaches. David Simmons, R.Ph., an instructor at TTUHSC School of Pharmacy who manages TTUHSC’s Amarillo Pharmaceutical Care Center, addressed this concept at the start of the season: “People sometimes don't know the difference between what the true flu is and what they perceive the flu to be. If they were to truly have the flu to where it puts them in bed for four to five days… they'd know the difference between truly being a flu patient and just feeling bad because of what they perceive the shot did to them.”
Simply put, the flu shot cannot spread the virus to you or your child because there isn’t a living version of the virus within the vaccine. The shot either contains an inactivated virus, or one single gene from it—neither of which could infect a recipient with the flu.
- “Everyone at school is getting vaccinated, so my kid is probably safe from catching
This argument comes from a concept known as “herd immunity:” the idea that if everyone else in a community is covered, you’re likely protected as well. Herd immunity is very real, and can be extremely helpful and effective—which is exactly why you should get vaccinated. Remaining unprotected goes against the actual logic of herd immunity, since keeping a virus from spreading is dependent on participation. The CDC’s coverage reports state that less than half of adults have been vaccinated over the past few years, proving a necessity for action on our part in order to protect those around us.
When it comes to the Influenza virus, getting the vaccine is the best way to keep you and your family healthy. As Richard Lampe, M.D., says, “Let’s look at the benefits of vaccines – life saving, prevention of illness. That is 10,000 times better than the pain of a shot. It just makes sense to protect children from potentially fatal illnesses.” Invariably, some West Texans will get the flu this winter—and it might be you.
If you catch the virus, take precautions that will help everyone around you from becoming at risk. Grabbing some Ibuprofen on the way to work is likely to get everyone else sick, and will slow your recovery. Rest, fluids, and nutrients to allow for speedier healing. The same is true for your child, especially considering how quickly germs spread among kids. If you feel you might have the flu, see your doctor as soon as the symptoms appear. Most importantly—get the flu shot. Feel comforted this winter, and focus on more enjoyable parts of the season.